April 24, 2006

Guest Entry: My fiancée’s reaction over the latest “uncovering” of Hamas activity in Jordan

Last Wednesday, my fiancée called me up; utterly irritated by some segregating gibberish she heard over the radio "البث المباشر" on her way to the university, folks were speaking of how “we” helped the Iraqis & Palestinians and this is how “they” pay "us" back by terrorizing “us”!

She wrote the following piece and in my unbiased –could it be?- humble opinion, I think it’s crude & cordially sincere:

قالوا صباحا في الأذاعة أنهم لم و لن يهزيمونا! لا صواريخ, لا متفجرات ولا حتى مؤامرات, لا ولا ولا،،، 0

قالوا أنهم (من هم أصلا؟ و ما هدفهم؟) لم و لن يستطيعوا زعزعة أمن الأردن المستقر الباقي الحبيب،،، 0

و قالوا أنهم (من هم؟) لم و لن يستطيعوا تدمير أحلامنا و تفكيك قوانا ولا حتى زحزحة حجر من أحجار بنيان "الأردن أولا" 0

ولكنهم فعلوا (من هم؟)0

زعزعوا (من هم؟) الأمن بدون صواريخ ولا تفجيرات, زعزعوا (من هم؟) الأمن في بلدنا بزرع الشك في نفوسنا الضعيفة و قد نالوا من بنيان "الأردن أولا" بزرعهم الفتن بين أفراده وزرع الكره والحقد والعدوان

فلا نقول أنهم لم ينالوامنا ,بل نالوا وفعلوا وحققوا

لتكن نظرتنا للأمور أعمق, ولتكن حكمتنا بالحكم أقوى و أوجه, لنفكر و نحلل لندرك،،، 0

لندك أنهم (من هم؟) بقدرتهم أن يخططوا اعوام و أعوام لزرع فتنة واحدة ممكن أن تدوم حتى و لو لساعات بين أفراد المجتمع فيزيد الكره و العدوان بين أفراد المجتمع الواحد

فننشغل بأنفسنا عنهم (من هم؟), و نضع بأيدينا الغشاوة على أعيننا حتى نصبح من الذين لا يرون خلف الأسوار

و نقول أنهم لم ينالو ؟؟؟؟

The feminine uprising in Saudi corporate life!

Back in the eighties, when a female cousin of mine decided to delve into the exclusive corporate world here in Saudi as a manager of a high-profile confectionary factory, she had to do it remotely through a fax machine, teleconferencing and a side-kick male manager physically acting on her behalf! Today however, a different story is being told!

6 months ago, a sales-rep came back from a sales-call with sheer astonishment frozen on his face! He was in an all-female investment wallets company; jam-packed in the middle of a conference room with a female GM, financial manager & a bunch of other female employees as he was demonstrating our services. (a prize awaits he who correctly guess if he made the sale?)

Until then I couldn’t have thought of a situation where a male in Saudi is outnumbered by females except for the poor lingerie shop salesman! Which by the way, the ministry of labor has recently passed a law making it mandatory to higher Saudi females for this job.

The corporate life here in Saudi was until recently a male dominant one, and I mean literarily dominant! From executive secretaries, sweet-talking beautiful-from-far far-from-beauitiful sales personnel to the –usually good-looking female- receptionist, it was a man’s world, exclusively yours…

Something that was rather musing to me when I was delegated to our sister company's project back in late 2004, as the summer season-feel crept into our company, our female colleagues -with their lack of professional tentativeness- thought it was ok to wear almost beach-side swimsuit cover-ups to work!

Or is it that they thought the workplace was yet another yippi-yay venue for socializing? I’m still mystified, but with the lack of a regulating-directive or an underlying code of practice (if not a total overlooking encouragement for unprofessional and essentially revealing dress-code), our company back home was already an uncomfortable place to be at.

So with such a corrupted & emotionally-charged psyche, I found Saudi a haven for deluded professionals (ehm…) like my humble self who are focused on being productive with their work with less seductive distractions! But who was that sweet-talking half-covered-with-Abaya sales rep who just marched into our eastern province branch few months back?

She was a sales rep from a local bank selling credit-cards! For the love of God, skipping everything a female professional can do, why did this Saudi woman decide to pick (or was she picked?) such a typical physique-centric job when the job market was opened for the female workforce?

I’ve met many professional working women, who deserve the capacity they’re filling, who understand the dynamics of the work place, how unprofessional & unproductive it is not to stick with a professional attire, and this was a disclaimer & a message to my x- female colleagues… back to the subject in hand!

The other day, a Saudi colleague of mine was sweating as he was about to make a phone call! The business card of the contact person he was calling was for a Saudi woman! But he never dealt with a non-relative (non-relative! Perhaps he only dealt with his mother, sisters aunts & wife(s)) women before as it seems, perhaps the closest of such experience is when dealing with a female nurse at a private hospital or a flaringly gay-looking Filipino McD cashier!

He was struggling to replace the common (must also add: useless) chattery & flattery lines between male counterparts as it was definitely not fit when addressed to a woman, but he improved by the day, yet the symptoms of near heart-attack experience is still there!

I’m not fond of unnecessary mixed environments (gender-ly mixed that is), yet the segregation between genders at all levels here in Saudi have resulted in far more intrinsic social issues that are potentially chronic than it actually protected the society from any anticipated vice!

Another extract from this emerging phenomena is that some companies have started hiring females by department! For instance, you’ll find the whole of a graphic-design department at a marketing agency we deal with; comprised of a female workforce encapsulated in a private section, an interesting concept for sure, definitely practical during this transitional period of Saudi corporate culture.

I believe in a rare opportunity here in Saudi to start something new, to set the record straight and properly regulate the work environment and professional distribution of roles that will facilitate both for men & women the proper jobs in the proper surrounding to achieve utmost productivity and reduce the unhealthy aspects of mixed workplaces!

To the credit of some of the Saudi working women I met, I saw sheer sincerity and seriousness towards their work, in contrast to the infectious attitude of the many female colleagues of mine back home who valued their payroll in terms of Kinda, perfect-nail, TONY&GUY and the ability to go for therapeutic casual shopping at Mecca Mall!

It seems that the urge to prove one’s self in a dominantly male society have created a professional culture among the Saudi women pursuing their careers, and many seem to have excelled as well!

April 18, 2006

Fastlink’s success is the highlight of the Jordanian consumer failure!

During my last trip to Amman, I called an electrician to come and fix something & when I gave him my mobile number –not on Fastlink (Zain)- he reiterated in protest “ما في عندك خط فاست؟” “Haven’t you got a Fast number?”… I paused for a second & thought to myself; either Fastlink (Zain) has a one hell of a cult-following inducing marketing strategy or we are just a bunch of easily milked taken-for-granted consumers!

We stand today at a market place were –technically- four different mobile operators are burning themselves out to the verge of bankruptcy to keep their pace in the competition to lock-in as many customers as possible, yet what we get in the end is an erratic –guesstimate- market share of 61% Fastlink (Zain), 27% MobileCom, 9% Umniah & 3% XPress!

Have it been the case that Fastlink (Zain) is a decent operator that provides a quality service with a matching customer service & fair competitive pricing; I wouldn’t have given it a flying thought if Fastlink is leading the market or not, I’ll even applaud their success!

Yet Fastlink (Zain) treat its taken-for-granted customers like old mules (Examples from the blogsphere: here & here), their network performance is poor (despite the comprehensive coverage they boost) & their pricing is based on the premise that everyone is using Fastlink & no other network exist!

Allow me to elaborate by briefly –not- telling the Mobile story of little Jordan:

Once upon a time, a company called Fastlink was granted a license to operate a mobile network in a lovely little country called Jordan, at the time, the cost of building, operating & maintaining such a network was costly, so obviously their target customers were a niche, hence the vulnerability of their business that required it to be protected by a 5-year exclusive monopoly over the market.

During those 5 year golden years, Fastlink (Zain) managed to milk the slowly growing niche of customers with a ridiculously high pricing & no emphasize on the service it offered or the quality of it... but everything has an ending, and so did its monopoly by the entry of another operator MobileCom, both took part in a duet of a further 5 years of duopoly with exclusivity over the market place.

At the time, Fastlink (Zain) recognized it will be loosing it’s customers rapidly, after all the advent of competition is tempting for the previously choice-less punters, so they did overhaul their service, most notably was the introduction of a real customer service call-center with adequate number of sweet-talking agents to meet the demand of their 85k punters at the time.

Yet Fastlink (Zain) found itself in a situation facing an incompetent competitor unable to penetrate the market while competing over simple-minded consumers! Fastlink (Zain) spared no effort in capitalizing on those two underlying factors.

By launching a new pricing plan that made it ridiculously expensive to call anyone not on Fastlink (Zain) in comparison with the relatively cheaper – but still expensive- price for calling its own customers, they rendered any good rate plan offered by MobileCom irrelevant because punters who sign up with MobileCom assumed that they will not be called by their Fastlink (Zain) counterparts!

How imbecilic is that! Since when the feasibility of anything is based on the savings made for others! If company A charges you a very high for calling company B & charging less for calling its own, while company B is charging you adequately to call both, which one will you choose?

Why should you care if 100k out of a potentially growing market were initially signed up with company A out of no choice, why not create a balance in the market place to keep a truly dynamic competition in place!

Our incompetence as Jordanian consumers stemmed from the fact that we allowed ourselves to be restrained into a thinking pattern that jstified our worrisome if those who will call us will refrain from doing so because they’ll be charged a premium!

Why should we care if those calling us made the wrong choice by opting for the company that charges a premium while they had the CHOICE otherwise!

Yes, MobileCom didn't capitalize the full potential of it being a new entrant or utilize the environment dictated by the duopoly they enjoyed along with Fastlink (Zain)!

It’s out-of-place marketing strategy & complex –yet cheaper- pricing did not make it easier for punters to make the choice either, so MobileCom is liable within this context.

Whether the government came to the aid of MobileCom, or the latter came up with the novel idea of offering the army personnel a special rate-plans -something that was almost unheard of in this industry-; the strategy worked & the company stayed afloat… until today!

The failure of the Jordanian consumer turned Fastlink (Zain) into a mammoth that enjoyed 5 years of monopoly charging premiums for a service that rapidly cost-ed less to offer, with further 5 years of pity competition that could’ve been more considerable!

And even today, while MobileCom is boosting the best network quality a GSM network can offer, & while Umniah is literally burning prices beyond feasibility (trust me on this one: any cross-network minute sold under 5 piasters doesn’t cover its cost) & XPress is offering a differentiated flat-rate professional service to corporate customers that does actually save money and improve the way business is done, yet with all that on offer you still find a cult-like following for Fastlink (Zain)!

Mr. Electritian, if Fastlink (Zain) is charging you so much for doing the unthinkable act of calling punters on other networks, then for Allah’s sake switch to another provider that charges you fairly for calling anyone!

Damn this number of yours that you have cherished for oh-my 2 years or so… no one cares if you changed it, your prestige will not shatter into pieces at the gates of dunes club, no one will think that you’re a Hafartali except for this insignificant lady, and definitely you’ll earn more by saving on your telephony costs!

A fellow blogger once commented on the lack of innovation in the Jordanian telecom market, but I don’t blame the telcos of Jordan, why should they through another dime while they see the incompetence of it’s potential customers whom are happy even when they’re treated like old mules overlooking the choices they have in a competition-driven market-place.

For Allah’s sake we’re content and even easily amused with merely premium SMS & “new” valued-added services (VAS) such as playing a dreadful song instead of the ringing-tone for those who have the courage to call outside Fastlink (Zain)! Why should any of the networks invest in 3G…

At the end, if you’re a Fastlink (Zain) customer, I have some FACTS for you:

Fact No. 1 No, not everyone is on Fastlink (Zain)! that might’ve been the case few years back thanks to people who think like you do.

Fact No. 2 You have a choice of 3 other operators whom will probably give you a free massage if you decide to opt for their service.

Fact No. 3 Yes, Fastlink (Zain) have superior network coverage, but unless you venture allot outside cities & main highways, you shouldn’t be worried to be left in the cold.

Fact No. 4 Their network is congested! Again, thanks to people who think like you do.

Fact No. 5 What’s the point in having a mature regulatory body, compitition & a maturing sector while consumers are not.

April 17, 2006

Feeling like a foreigner at the local McDonalds!

It’s probably hard being an Arabic-speaking Saudi when you walk into any food outlet here (in Saudi) where you feel the need to speak another language in order to munch on a meal of your choice*; if it wasn’t for the -obviously essential- business sense of the owners who literally programs their (decreasingly non-Saudi) staff to speak the essential restaurant’n’trade Arabic!

A typical dialogue at a local burger chain (Herfy) would go something like: (sorry English readers; no fun translating accents)

Cashier : “سلام اليكم سير تفدل”
Customer : “عطني واحد سوبر هرفي”
Cashier : “لهم (لحم) ولا دجاج”
Customer : “لحم”
Cashier : “وجبه ولا سانداوتش سير”
Customer : “لا وجبه”
Cashier : “كم نفر (شخص)؟”
Customer : “نفرين”
Cashier : “سوبر سيز؟”
Customer : “سوبر”
Cashier : “كمسه (خمسه) اشريين (وعشرين) ريال سير”

English literacy in Saudi is ridiculously low despite it being in the official curriculum and part of most university pathways.

back when I used to be a kid studying at sixth grade, the grade at which the official curriculum used to introduce the –oh myyy- English language, we received the official text book that taught us pre-school or KG English, having obviously covered our ABCs long back –at private schools-; English classes were a doddle ever since…

Back to the subject, it would definitely sound awkward having to speak a foreign language when ordering food in your own country, it remind me of the stupidity of some restaurants in Amman where they choose to present their menu in English exclusively that even the waiter mimic his knowledge of it because in truth he was merely taught to pronounce the items when pointed at by the customer... possibly a futile attempt to reflect hollow exquisiteness!

However, programming a pleasant Filipino fellow or a humble South-east Asian worker to speak only what is necessary to receive an order, reiterating the price along with some nice gestures -without understanding its use & meanings- is rather insulting in terms of dehumanizing the cashier or the order-handler into a machine that only registers certain terms & phrases that’s necessary for the transaction! Good luck explaining that you want no Mayo in your burger with that sort of Arabic or even start a Good-day-sir-the-weather-is-nice small-talk.

I usually go with the flow under the benefit-of-doubt premise that the cashier is trying his best to speak my language to make it easier for me to order, yet one discover that even when this imposed essential-Arabic fails to serve it’s purpose, the reluctance to switch to proper English (assumingly we both understand) is rather high, because he was programmed to speak the way that gets the business going with the bulk of the customers!

I can safely assume the same situation reoccurring in a place like Dubai but at a larger scale, however Dubai is already a cosmopolitan place with locals only accounting for a ridicule 20% of it’s total population! Regardless if this state of affair is good or bad, the fact of the matter is that English becomes essential for communication at all levels, to the point at which the use of Arabic becomes enforced or regulated by the government to "preserve” some indigenous “Arabic” feel for the place, like permiting only bilingual billboards & so forth!

Back to Saudi, Methinks until the whole of the foreign work force is replaced with locals (a good thing), they should invest in teaching the workforce proper Arabic from basics and upwards, this will have immense impact on the way business is done in Saudi, as well as it’s cultural impact by exposing millions of expats to a culture they’re alienated from and inherently oblivious about!

Contemporary Saudi has failed culturally to be of any influence on a big chunk of its population despite a deeply routed Islamic & Arabic heritage that was spinning the world only few centuries ago! In fact, most x-Saudi expats typically desist their Saudi experience, which is rather a sorry state as many wrongfully -but understandably- associate what they have experienced in Saudi with all that is Islam or Arabic…

Back home in Jordan, except for some odd “Mafi Proplem” & "Maype" encounters and the ridiculous English-only menus at many Ammani restaurants (I call for a boycott), we can still order our meals in Arabic, but try receiving a gift in Arabic on radio and you’ll be the laugh of town for a while… Alas! (Read N@simjo’s beautiful take here)

* Original observation was made by my thoughtful friend Jafar!

April 16, 2006

The didn’t-I-tell-you-so Ego is oozing, despite the disinterest: MobileCom is rebranding.

My speculation months back was well-placed, MobileCom is going ahead with it’s rebranding to become yet another Orange under the France Telecom cluster.

It’ll be interesting to see how they’ll tackle the issue of it’s already axiom-ed misunderstanding that Orange is an Israeli company! from the press release, the new CEO bluntly referred to this explicitly…

Not a very smart move in my book! It’s like looking gay-ish while everyone thinking that you are & you plead otherwise by chanting “I’m not gay”… NO, you go and find yourself a girlfriend or something! (The metaphor fell short of correlacting the girlfriend bit)

This will surely catalyze the dynamics of the telecom sector in Jordan, though it’s about time we see truly novel new services being introduced, not merely new ways to get ring-tones and premium SMS! We want wireless broadband for starters…

The full news item from Al-Ghad:


April 13, 2006

Fragment (consider revising)*

This turn-off statement that the MS grammar checker makes almost every time I finish typing a sentence is partially responsible for the recent lack of posts here at my blog, despite the many drafts I have jotted in the past month with no will to neither proof-reading them or to hit the publish button!

Why should I consider revising a perfectly sensible & meaningful long sentence that I wrote on MS Word? I barely put up with the constant nagging of MS Word with its grammatical mishaps detection & its unrelated spelling corrective suggestions, for I like to write in lengths as I ponder upon a subject, I like to dwell upon it & not merely write about it without confining myself with being concise!

Yet the issue lay deeper than the inability to write properly as I’ve been always criticized for my far fetched analogies, incomparable –you guessed it- comparisons & mostly flawed premises, but never did I gave into critics of such nature!

But ever since I started sharing my thoughts through online discussion forums – & more recently, my blog- I became more self-conscious of how I present the thoughts I bare.

For the most part, I do recognize that my head oozes with thoughts, ideas, insights, rants, observations & an opinion about almost everything that I come across, but then comes the road block of actually structuring it to a properly meaningful read!

I do usually start with jotting down a title that captures the genera of the thought in mind, a pointer if you like so I can materialize it into a publishable piece at a later stage, but then comes the dwelling part, at which point I face a multitude of obstacles, one of which is my linguistic fragmental deficiency, followed by the tendency to off-road beyond even the comprehension of myself.

Besides that, I do sense an underlying fear of how it’ll be read, how coherent & well-written it’ll be perceived, a possible theatrical fourth-wall anxiousness as it may be…

At one point, the throughput of thoughts just overwhelms my ability to compose them into words or even capturing them in the first place, its like thoughts are setting there, desperately circling inside my mind & as they eye an opportunity to be vented out (at times where I actually set down & write, talk or else) they come rushing over each other chaotically to a point of total stagnation!

It’s not a matter of lack of interest in my surrounding or the incidents I encounter; neither is it the case that I no longer spot the unusual in the midst of normalcy! It’s definitely none of that…

I like to think of it as such periods in one’s life when one become self-conscious about say his weight & contemplate the importance of exercising as his weight increases but never actually take the plunge & start, the impedance against starting grows by the day to the point of giving up on one’s self.

Similarly, a thought can be somewhat entertaining & catalyzing for a while in one’s mind on its own without it being communicated, but it’ll eventually –& gradually- fade to make space for fresher thoughts at the front of our mind! Unless it’s materialized its value will degrade into nonexistent…

Related post : Linguistic clumsiness!

* a possible copyright infringement; just in case, courtesy of MS & the novelty of using it as a title goes to my cousin Hamada.